The number of French tourists visiting the UK looks set to almost double this year because of favourable exchange rates.
Expedia.com says it has seen an 80 per cent increase in French tourists booking trips to the UK in January, while Skyscanner.net says searches for flights to the UK from France have gone up 70 per cent this month.
The pound dropped 37 per cent against the euro in December to almost parity, at €0.98 to £1, its lowest point since the euro launched in 2002.
Although the pound has rallied by around 7 per cent since its low in December, Britain remains good value for tourists from the euro zone.
Rob Innes, head of marketing for Skyscanner, says: “We are seeing increasing interest for the UK; not surprising given the strength of the euro and US dollar against the pound, meaning the UK is now about 20 per cent cheaper for those in the eurozone, and 35 per cent cheaper for Americans, compared to this time last year.”
Latest government figures show the beginning of the French upsurge in the July-September quarter of 2008. The number of visitors from France shot up to 1.03m compared with 816,000 in the same three months in 2007.
Their spending increased even more dramatically – from £242m in summer 2007 to £338m in the same three months in 2008.
Eurostar says bookings for trains to London in December were up 15 per cent year-on-year, buoyed by demand for cheap Christmas shopping from the continent. It says this trend has continued in 2009. “We can directly attribute this to the strong euro,” a spokesman told Times Online.
He added that his staff working on Eurostar trains were noticing that European travellers were increasingly returning to the continent laden with shopping bags from both designer and high street brands.
Business is also booming for the cross-Channel Ferries. Brian Rees, head of public relations for P&O Ferries told Times Online that passenger bookings from Calais to Dover are up 8 per cent for January compared to the same period last year.
He added: “Colleagues at our check-ins say there are certainly more French and Belgian registration plates coming through. Also, I was in Canterbury at the weekend and the amount of French being spoken was far more noticeable than I’m used to.”
SeaFrance Dover-Calais Ferries has also seen increases in the number of day trippers from the continent over the Christmas period and in early January. It too says Canterbury is a particularly popular destination among French visitors.
Kent is frequently the first port of call for French visitors. Gavin Oakley, owner of two hotels in Kent, Wallett’s Court Country House Hotel and Spa in Westcliffe, and The White Cliffs Hotel in St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe near Dover says European guests were up around 10 per cent in 2008 and enquiries have sharply increased this year.
The British tourism industry is also expecting a recovery in the number of tourists from the US, traditionally the largest market for the UK, with around 3.6 million visits by Americans every year.
A spokeswoman for UK Inbound, which represents British tourism businesses, told Times Online: “US visitor numbers dropped in 2008 because they don’t tend to travel in an election year and because of the recession, but we’re expecting that to pick up this year.”
The next largest inbound market is Germany, at around 3.4 million visitors to the UK each year, followed by the French at 3.3 million, according to UK Inbound.
The invasion of European travellers is good news for British tourism businesses, but could mean greater competition for holidays in Britain. German tourists, as well as the Dutch and Belgians, are booking up UK holiday cottages in record numbers.
Blue Chip Vacations, which lists properties in the West Country, has seen a 72 per cent rise in bookings from northern Europe, while Ecosse Unique says its holiday homes in Scotland have received “unprecedented demand” from holidaymakers in Germany and Holland.
Innes from Skyscanner says Britons planning to holiday at home could be disappointed: “… the potential downside is that Britons hoping for a cheap holiday in the UK this year will be competing with more foreign tourists for accommodation and travel deals. Ironically, this may mean that a carefully chosen holiday abroad could work out cheaper than holidaying at home.”